In this blog, I thought I’d share some of the mistakes that I made when I ran my first Kickstarter for Zombies Need Brains and the anthology CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK VS ALIENS. If you’re thinking of running a Kickstarter, perhaps this will help you make fewer mistakes than I did. Some of these are about designing the Kickstarter, and some of them are mistakes made with producing that first anthology and fulfilling the backer rewards.
The first two of these mistakes—and also the biggest mistakes that I made—are with designing the Kickstarter and they both deal with postage. Yes, postage.
So, you’re planning the Kickstarter, right? And of course you factor in postage into the expenses you’ll have. This affects the amount of money that you need to raise in the Kickstarter into to create the product and send it out to the backers. Of course you do. EXCEPT, in the planning phase, I forgot to factor in one crucial postage expense: that of sending backer extra rewards to ebook backers. What I mean here are the little extras that you promise backers, such as bookmarks if you reach a stretch goal, or magnets, or postcards, or whatever. In my head, I’d said to myself that the ebook backers wouldn’t have any postage expenses, because of course you’d just email the ebooks to them (or send them a link to where they could download them). No expense there, right?
HA, HA! I forgot that if we hit certain goals, even the ebook backers would get these little extra physical incentives, and that these little incentives would require postage to mail them to the backers. So I never factored in this postage. Thankfully, I’d factored in a few hundred dollars for “unexpected expenses” and this covered most of that. The hardest part of this was mailing the incentives outside the US, because international postage is expensive. And of course, most of the ebook backers were international. So this was kind of a punch to the gut. I mitigated it a little bit by asking backers if they wanted the incentives or not, and many did not, so that helped. But still, it hurt in terms of expenses.
For the next Kickstarter, I made certain that I worded the Kickstarter in such a way that it was clear that these physical incentives would only be sent to those who backed at a certain amount or more (basically, reward levels that were receiving a physical mailing already).
My second mistake also had to do with postage, mainly international postage. Yes, I knew it would be more expensive, but I didn’t do enough research to find out exactly HOW MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE it would be. When I went to the post office to mail the international packages, I was physically sick as the postage rang up. It was almost double what I’d planned on. Granted, I was mailing these a year after I’d run the Kickstarter, and postage rates had changed during that time, but it was still MUCH, MUCH higher than I’d anticipated. This, along with the previous postage error, effectively ate up all of my emergency fund built into the Kickstarter, and then some. But of course I mailed everything out. The backers were expecting their rewards, after all.
For the next Kickstarter, I had a much better idea of what the international postage would be and so planned accordingly. I use an average for the international postage now, and that gets added to the pledge level if you’re international. It’s high, and I know it’s high, but there’s not much I can do about that.
The next mistake I made wasn’t really a mistake so much as just horrible luck. One of the reward levels in that Kickstarter was an art print of the cover art for the anthology signed by the artist. I’d negotiated for 25 of these. So I had them printed—not cheap—and mailed them off to Germany, where the artist lived, also not cheap. And then I waited, and waited, and waited. I hadn’t heard anything from the artist and the tracking on the prints just said it had reached Germany, so I contacted the artist and he said he hadn’t received them. I contacted the post office and they said that once it left the US it was out of their hands.
It turns out that the package had reached Germany and then was left in a warehouse or something where it got wet. Art prints don’t react well to water, even though they were wrapped in plastic. So the prints were all ruined. I had to reprint the art—again, not cheap—and mail it again (this time through UPS, still not cheap) and finally got my signed prints. So basically this reward level cost me double what it should have. And of course the post office didn’t take responsibility for what happened because “it was out of their hands”. The insurance I’d gotten for the package only applied to what happened to it in the US, not Germany. So lesson learned.
You’ll note that I don’t offer a reward level for signed art prints for the cover now. I offer prints, just not signed-by-the-artist copies. I still have some of those other art prints left and use them as a reward level in all of my Kickstarters, but now you know one of the reasons they’re so expensive. Still trying to recoup that doubled cost.
My mistakes now shift toward the actual production of the anthology, rather than things associated with running and fulfilling the Kickstarter. At this point, I’d like to point out that I’d been published by DAW and had edited for DAW, so I knew some of what happened behind the scenes in producing a book or anthology, BUT I didn’t know everything, especially some of the finer details. So this first project was a HUGE learning curve. My first mistake was …
TIME. I didn’t understand exactly how much time it took to do all of the little pieces of a project and the order in which those things should be done. So everything took longer than I expected. And a bunch of things had to be done over again, sometimes more than once. For example, I had my cover designer design the cover of the book. Great! That’s checked off my list. BUT THEN I found out that the size of the cover file depends on how many pages are in the book, and I didn’t have that yet, and so when I finally got the page number count, we had to go back and redesign the cover. (Because page count affects the width of the spine, which affects the dimensions of the cover.) Also, I had the ebooks and paperback designed at the same time. But then, if an error was found, we had to go back and redo both the ebooks and the paperbacks. There were many, many different little things that I forgot we needed—such as bar codes and headers and … well, you get the idea. So I made many mistakes here in terms of the order in which things should be done.
Since then, I’ve gotten a better handle on what should be done when, what needs to be done first, etc. I’m still learning though. Now, we design the interior of the Kickstarter paperback first. Then the ebook. Then the cover for the Kickstarter edition. Then we redo the interior design for the trade paperback version, followed by the redo of the cover for the trade paperback. And in all of that process, there are other minor things that have to be done in such and such an order. And all of that takes more time than you think it’s going to take. I still don’t have the timing down yet, because it depends on such things as your interior and ebook designers’ schedule and the printer’s schedule and other things you have no control over. But I’ve gotten much more efficient at this over time.
And the last mistake that I want to talk about is just something stupid that slipped through the system. The page numbers in the Table of Contents of the Kickstarter edition of CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE are all screwed up. Here’s how it happened: the interior of the kickstarter edition was designed and the ToC page numbers were good. But then we decreased the size of the font and the indentations, because the anthology was just way too many pages and its cost to produce would be exorbitant. BUT, we forgot to go back and adjust the page numbers in the ToC to account for the new design. No one checked them before it was sent to the printer. And so the Kickstarter edition has totally screwed up pages in the ToC. Not a huge thing, but extremely annoying for someone like me, who expects perfection from myself. Obviously, we’ve added a ToC page check to the list of things to do at the end, before sending the files to the printer.
At this point, I’ve got the basics of the process worked out and it’s more or less efficient. But I still make mistakes. I screwed up Gini Koch’s pseudonym on the SUBMERGED back cover of the Kickstarter edition. (I called her J.D. Koch on the back cover, instead of J.C. Koch. I got it right everywhere on the inside, just not on the back cover.) I’m sure there are other errors as well, ones that I’ve just not noticed or discovered yet. But overall, I think all of these were learning curve mistakes. I’m getting better at this. Hopefully, I get a chance to keep doing it for years to come. *grin*
And now a word from our sponsor:
Zombies Need Brains is currently running a Kickstarter (tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals) to fund THREE new SF&F anthologies and we need your help! We can't produce anthologies unless we can get the funding to pay the authors, the cover artists, the print and ebook designers, and the printers. That's where the Kickstarter comes in, and you, THE FANS! We've got a ton of stunning anchor authors on board, including NY Times bestselling authors and award winners. And we've got a ton of great reward levels, such as tuckerizations, signed copies of books by your favorite authors, and more! Our themes for this current Kickstarter are:
PORTALS: In the blink of an eye, the familiar disappears as you step into the unknown. What new creatures will you meet? What strange planets will you explore? Will you find happiness, or doom? Open the pages of PORTALS, the newest anthology from the small press Zombies Need Brains, and you just might find out. From wardrobes to monoliths, wormholes to fairy rings, there is a rich tradition of stories in both science fiction and fantasy that explore what happens when--by accident or design--characters are transported from one world to another. Join fourteen of today’s leading science fiction and fantasy authors as they offer fresh takes on this classic theme. Whether a routine trip or unexpected journey, each tale will explore new worlds of adventure, mystery, humor, and horror, with stories for every taste and fancy. Edited by S.C. Butler and Patricia Bray, PORTALS will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of up to 6,000 words each. It will include short stories by: Jacey Bedford, F. Brett Cox, James Enge, Esther Friesner, Nancy Holzner, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, Jaime Lee Moyer, and Ian Tregillis.
TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED: In our spam boxes today, we both received notices that our bank accounts required resolution, and the content of the spam contained the following sentence: "We have noticed that you need to resolve important security issues on your account to prevent temporal deactivation." Of course, our immediate thought was of a new anthology called TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED! For this follow-up to 2015’s TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER, we are looking for stories that take a person, object, event, or phenomenon and somehow, during the course of the plot, “temporally deactivate” it, whatever that may mean in the context of the story. “Temporal deactivation” should refer to something more than a simple death, malfunction, or termination, and instead should touch in some way on issues of time — its flow, distortion, dislocation, etc. Edited by David B. Coe & Joshua Palmatier, it will contain approximately 14 stories with an average length of up to 6000 words each. It will include short stories by: C.S. Friedman, Faith Hunter, D.B. Jackson, Gini Koch, Stephen Leigh, Misty Massey, Jenna Rhodes, and Edmund R. Schubert.
ALTERNATE PEACE: All too often, alternate histories are based on a battle or assassination. We’re looking for stories where change grew out of more peaceful activities…science, business, and culture. Imagine a world in which the branch point from our own was caused by scientific endeavor, social change, natural forces, or other points of divergence which don’t rely on military activity or violence. Edited by Steven H Silver & Joshua Palmatier, it will contain approximately 14 stories with an average length of up to 6000 words each. It will include short stories by: D.B. Jackson, Stephen Leigh, Ian R. MacLeod, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kari Sperring, Harry Turtledove, Rick Wilber.
If you'd like to help fund these anthologies, swing on by the Kickstarter at http://tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals
! And share the Kickstarter with your friends, family, and total strangers! We need more SF&F anthologies!
"Portals" by Justin Adams of Varia Studios